Holiday Prep: Time to Get Ready.

Overview.

Having a successful holiday doesn’t just happen. It requires holiday prep and now is the TIME to get ready. I know, the kids are barely back to school. But truth be told, you cannot start too early. This blog is written for both small retailers and large alike. I have also created a checklist that mirrors this blog so head over to my Resources page of the Running Great Stores website and download the Holiday Prep Checklist here.

Holiday Predictions.

There is a lot of speculation on holiday retail sales with the ongoing threat of a recession, student loans that did not get forgiven by the US government, high grocery prices, the rising cost of utilities, high home mortgage rates, and more. My predictions are that off price retailers are going to see high traffic and take a large share of wallet.

  • Anticipate customers looking for discounts earlier than Black Friday. Every year, retailers are starting earlier and earlier and customers going to be ready starting Veterans Day weekend.
  • Customers expect stores to have inventory on hand. If they took the time to visit brick and mortar, they want to leave with a bag.
  • The retail stores who anticipate customer needs and deliver will be rewarded with returning customers throughout the season.

Using this Holiday Prep tool will help you beat the competition!

Audit Last Year’s Holiday.

Now is the time to look at last year’s sales results, promotions, and strategies to determine what you are up against this year. Last year is a decent measuring stick for this year since we were mainly past COVID. Thanksgiving is the same week this year as last year so the there won’t be the shift that can impact holiday sales.

Listrak has put together a helpful Holiday Planning document that I am sharing here. They are not sponsoring this post, but found it helpful and wanted to share.

Preparing Your Stores.

Your stores are where your customers experience the brand in real life and getting your teams energized about the upcoming holiday will help them get excited and starting to think about their role in delivering a successful peak period.

Not all brands are able to have Holiday prep meetings to get their teams ready for holiday however It is vital to put together a “Win at Holiday” strategy to get store leadership teams thinking about the holiday, how they will execute, ensuring their teams are ready and that the customer will have a remarkable experience inside those four walls.

If you are a District or Regional Manager reading this blog, pull your teams together for a breakfast meeting and get them prepped. The Store Managers who were in the business last year can share insight into what worked and what didn’t. Give the them a voice and listen to their ideas. They are closest to the customer and might just have some great ideas.

If you are a Store Manager reading this blog and there aren’t going to be store meetings in your District, you can still talk to your team and get them pumped for holiday. This Holiday Prep is for you!

Building Store Teams.

Throughout my career, I have always believed that if you can win with People, you will win. It starts and ends with great teams. So our first big category is focused on building your team.

  • Identify who you should hire and remember to be sensitive to inclusivity. When customers see themselves in the associates who are working, they more quickly identify with your brand and want to shop there.
  • Talk to your current team and see how their availability might change going into holiday. There is no sense in hiring additional seasonal associates when your current trained team wants more hours.
  • Determine the number of associates you need to hire and the necessary availability.
  • Ensure the talent you hire have a heart for the customer and truly care about creating remarkable experiences. It is important to start early so you have your choice of talent to choose from. You might not have payroll yet that you can use, but if you can provide a start date, they will join the team!
  • Be ready to Onboard and train new hires. Determine who will conduct new hire onboarding and ensure they are creating a stellar experience and teaching/training to the brand standards.
  • Assess the current team and provide additional training for any performance gaps. The idea of “swiss army knife” associates speaks to seasoned associates who are cross trained and can cover various parts of the store. This helps tremendously when you get into holiday and someone scheduled calls off sick.
  • Talk to your supervisor and make sure you are clear on the target wage rate that you should be paying. Find out what neighboring stores are offering so you can be competitive.

Retention Strategies.

It is one thing to hire amazing people to work in your stores this holiday.  It’s another to keep them happy! These associates will reflect your brand to every customer who walks in the door. It is a big investment to hire and train members of the store team. Turnover is costly. It is a worthwhile activity to identify ways. to keep the team happy and engaged.

A couple things to remember: 

  1. Recognize members of the team for very specific positive behaviors.  Look for things DAILY that you can highlight.
  2. Provide your store teams with small treats they can give out in the moment for good behavior. Movie size candy and $5 gift cards are easy and appreciated tokens that make people feel appreciated.
  3. Treat your seasonal hires & permanent team members like the non-renewable resource that they are.  If you make them feel cherished, they will make your customers feel cherished. 

Holiday Roles.

Evaluate your store and identify the key roles at holiday.  While you may not hire additional managers during the peak season, you will need plenty of sellers, cashiers, stock associates who can keep the floor full and abundant and the backroom organized. 

During my years at Bath & Body Works, a key role was called the “line jester”.  This role worked the line at the cash wrap keeping customers happy, ensuring they had maximized the sales and gave a second thought about everyone on their gift list.  We gave out candy canes too! This role is not needed in every retail store, but assess your store and be creative around roles that might keep customers happy when the store is busy!

Divisions of Responsibility (DORs).

This may not be a familiar term but in a nutshell, this term refers to each manager on the team has very specific responsibilities. They should have them throughout the year, but it is especially important during peak. DORs are:

  • People Leader – this should be the Store Manager. They own ensuring hiring targets are met, teams are trained, engaged and focused on delivering superior customer experiences. After all, the team has a big impact on the customer.
    • Maintain staffing levels
    • Create store schedules with the strongest associates scheduled during peak times.
    • Training and Coaching
    • Drives sales results
  • Operations Leader – this is normally an Assistant Manager or Key Holder. This DOR ensures all operational tasks are completed, especially non-selling area organization.
    • Backroom organization
    • Damages properly completed
    • Paperwork accuracy verification and banking
    • Appropriate amount of supplies on hand
  • Merchandising/Visual Leader – this can be the manager who has visual prowess and doesn’t already own another DOR. This DOR executes the visual presentation and reactionary merchanidsing as products sell through to keep the sales floor appealing to customers.
    • Lead floor moves and keep the sales floor properly merchandised to brand standard as new products continue to flow.
    • Ensure new inventory is “door to floor in 24 hours” or whatever your brand standard is.
    • Maintains accurate marketing signs throughout selling floor.
    • Keeps promotions updated.
    • Provides direction to members of the team around cleanliness

Important Dates. 

There are various dates from early November to New Years that requires more staffing.  The sooner you identify these key dates and solidify who will work, the better.  The last thing you want is to be understaffed when traffic is up.  The goal is to maximize high-traffic days to maximize conversion and volume!

Examples of these key dates:

  • When will you set your sales floor for the holiday?
  • What are the top 10 highest volume days of the season?

Scheduling.

There are multiple considerations here.

  • Are there mandatory workdays for managers? Let them know now so they can plan their holiday too.
  • Are there specific days when the store manager needs to open the store or close the store? Do they need to work Black Friday?
  • When do the mall hours change and what are the extended hours?
  • Look at everyone’s availability and inquire as to flexibility in their hours and if they want to pick up more hours during the holiday. It is better to maximize your current team than hire people who won’t get hours and quit. (I know I have said this twice, but that is how important it is.)

Creating Amazing Customer Experiences.

How do you define amazing customer experiences? With increased traffic, this changes.

  • Customers want us to be reliable and provide consistent experiences every time they shop in your store. 
  • Customers need us to be responsive to their needs and show empathy. 
  • How might you be able to offer personalized service?  Know their names when you can and make them feel special, not like another transaction. 
  • Train your team to be competent in their role and take care of each customer.
  • Teach your team to be ready to handle upset customers.  Being proactive and flexible is key!
  • “Yes, I can do that for you” is better than saying “no”.  

Marketing Promotions.

Part of ensuring your team is fully prepared is to share the promotions that will occur throughout the season.  Provide a high-level overview and save the specifics for the day prior to the event.  It is easy to lose sales by telling customers too far out what is coming. 

  • What will the Black Friday offers look like?
  • How do store teams need to plan ahead for high volume days due to promotions?

Store Support.

Stores are open for extended hours throughout the holiday.  Is the team who supports the stores going to be available too? If they are not available, make sure to provide stores with the details they need to address after hour issues. 

Additional considerations for Peak:

  • Is the return policy changing with an extension to allow for holiday returns?
  • Are gift receipts going to be available to the customer?
  • Will you be offering boxes this year? 

Merchandise Flow.

Often there is an increase of product to stores during holiday.  This could mean stores receiving additional days of shipment throughout the week. Store teams need to have associates trained and ready to get stock pushed to the floor or carefully backstocked.

  • Will delivery times change?
  • Will delivery days change?
  • Are deliveries coming on Black Friday? 
  • Can stores handle the increased quantity in their backrooms or does freight need to be metered so it fits?
  • Are night drops needed for large deliveries so stores can push goods directly to the floor?
  • Do stores have a process for keeping the sales floor full even when it is busy?

Supplies.

The goal is to manage supplies so that stores are not over or under-inventoried. Running out of bags, boxes, tissue paper or whatever your brand’s key items are has a negative impact on the customer experience.

  • Keep the supplies organized in the stores backroom so you know what you have.
  • If you provide stores with supply budgets, evaluate what the average store will need and adjust the budget accordingly. 
  • Ensure that critical supplies are never out of stock so if a store has increased sales volume, they can order supplies and get them delivered quickly. 

Facilities.

To keep the store looking good at all times, have a daily routine that keeps the store:

  • Cleaned
  • Mopped/Vacuumed
  • Organized
  • Replace burned-out bulbs
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces/bathrooms
  • Windows/Mirrors clean and smudge-free

Health & Safety.

I know no one wants to hear this but as someone who just got over a bad case of COVID, it is still lingering.  Keeping the store clean and sanitized will keep your team and your customers protected. 

  • Do stores have antibacterial  products available on the supply list?
  • Is there a benefit to providing basic instructions for wiping down the cashwrap and bathrooms throughout the day?

Loss Prevention.

Stores should be reminded of all loss prevention policies.  There are a lot of new team members and they might not have been exposed to the standard policies. 

  • Team needs to park in well lit areas – safety is important.
  • Shoplifting incidents and incident reports.
  • Associate dishonesty issues.
  • Issues with door locks.
  • Exit signs and emergency signs working.

Visual Merchandising.

Keeping the store looking well-merchandised gives customers the best impression of the brand.  Inventory often sells faster this time of the year so stores either need autonomy to re-merchandise themselves or they need sell through recommendations. 

So many customers are shopping your brand for the first time, this impression could decide if they ever come back again. 

  • Walk the store before opening hours
  • Walk the store before evening shift starts

Final Thoughts.

I know this is a lot of information.  To make it easier, visit the Resources section of my website and download the Holiday Prep Checklist that mirrors this blog.

I am confident that using this checklist will help you prepare your stores and teams for a successful holiday season.

Wishing you all your most successful holiday yet.

In your Corner,

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